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Prada, Jil Sander, Marni and more show off blindingly bright ideas in Milan
Black attire allows a woman to move stealthily through her day, blending seamlessly into the urban landscape. These Day-Glo colors thrust her into the spotlight.
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Once a woman has everyone's attention, then what? Can a bright purple suit exude authority? Why isn't an eye-catching suit more of a power statement than a stereotypical gray one that blends into the boardroom?
Culturally we cling to the notion that if clothes draw attention, they distract from what the wearer has to say. But one can't help but imagine an ambitious woman strutting into a meeting wearing something from Raf Simons's collection for Jil Sander and being just fine.
Simons's mesmerizing work seamlessly blended brilliant colors with powerful and sophisticated silhouettes. The first few looks on his austere white runway were simple ball skirts in eye-popping shades paired with plain white T-shirts. Next came trousers in bright pink paired with violet blazers, black suits worn with hunter orange shirts, skirts imprinted with floral patterns reminiscent of Georgia O'Keeffe, cherry red trench coats brushed with pink stripes, and elegant heels with their soles glowing orange or pink.
The effect was akin to a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline, as well as a shot of epinephrine directly into the heart. The clothes in the Jil Sander collection almost seemed to pulsate.
Most women will claim to love color. But are they brave enough to wear it? Women who embrace color -- and they tend to live south of the Mason-Dixon line -- do so selectively. They like a sexy red party dress or a cheerful floral print. Women in Washington like a bright red, blue or yellow suit -- but they want it cut conservatively and with a feminine flair. They want it to be pretty, not bold. They claim to love colorful evening gowns, but they tend to buy them in black because they can wear them more often and that makes black so much more practical.
Black is also so safe and reassuring. Who wants to go to a dinner party wearing a bright pink fashion faux pas?
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While on the subject of mistakes, flubs and misguided thinking, now seems the perfect moment to bring up the Missoni collection. One longs for a postmortem on the Sunday show, an examination of how an idea went so wrong and how a venerable Italian house could produce a collection that stumbled so badly.
Designer Angela Missoni toyed with many of the same elements as Prada. She explored a South American vibe, a '70s kitschiness, a bold use of color. And one could see -- sort of -- the designer's intent. She gave guests a hint as soon as they entered the stone colonnade where the show was presented. A group of models stood wearing crocheted face masks by Italian artist Aldo Lanzini, whose fiber art has recently captivated Missoni. His masks transformed the models -- posing in a tableau vivant -- into strange and glorious creatures with curling threads of colorful fabric swirling around their heads and hiding their identities.
The same textile playfulness was evident on the Missoni runway, but it ultimately resulted in a visual cacophony of color, pattern, embellishment and fluorescence that caused the eyes to spin and the head to throb. Strange wordplay was at work on the voluminous caftans and tunics. "Raw like sushi" was written across one torso -- a phrase that did not call to mind anything remotely pleasant.